Ah, the joys of driving


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Last week I vented about the heavy, hectic, scary traffic on the bypass around Atlanta. This week, I’m going to vent about some of the knuckle-headed, oblivious, scary people with whom we share the highways.

We will also delve into some of the rules-of-the-road that many drivers choose to ignore.

Although, in this column, I will be blowing off some steam about the frustrations of driving, I actually enjoy being behind the wheel. I enjoy cruising down the highway.

Last summer, Debbie and left home and headed west. We meandered the interstate roads and backroads between Wilmington and San Francisco. Then, we headed north. From Bellingham, Washington, we took an auto-ferry to Alaska.

The Alaska Highway is a fantastic road. We traveled over 10,000 miles on our mega-vacation; 8,500 of those miles were highway miles. I enjoy driving and Debbie enjoys riding along with me. We are a traveling team. We enjoy life on the road.

However…

I have learned from the mile-after-mile of driving experience over the past 50years that there are some real knuckleheads on our roadways. Many people either do not know the rules of the highway, or they simply chose to ignore them.

I’m not going to focus just on speeding. We all know that “speed kills.” We have all had our foot on the pedal, cruising down the highway when some speed-freak blows by us doing at least 30 mph over the posted limit.

My fear is always that I’ll catch up with them a few miles later, just to find their car upside-down in a ditch, with the wheels free-spinning and crumbled bodies inside the wreckage. Speed does kill.

Posted speed limits are the law. If the sign says 70 mph, you are breaking the law if you cruise along at 75 mph.

However, I have many friends in law enforcement who view the posted speed limits as the recommended maximum speed. Just like on the outer belt of Atlanta, if you keep your speed at 70 mph and everyone around you is flying by at 85 mph, you might be making a dangerous situation even worse. It is often safer to go-with-the-flow.

Regardless of the highway speed, the lanes of a highway have designations. The lane on the far left (nearest the median) should be reserved for passing. If there is no one in front of you to pass, move over to the middle or right lane.

It aggravates me to be driving at a safe speed and to have to pass a much slower driver who has staked out the passing lane as their own. They never change lanes. They stay in the passing lane as if it was their private domain.

They are oblivious to the cars and trucks that have to slow down to get around them on their right. Drivers using the passing lane are supposed to yield to traffic wishing to pass – not block them.

The actual lane designations of a three-lane highway are (starting from the left) the passing lane. The middle lane is the driving lane and the right lane is the exit lane or the slow lane.

Unfortunately, we have all seen aggressive drivers who come speeding up the highway, changing lanes like a NASCAR driver.

When driving, keep you head in the game. Pay attention to the traffic around you. Be polite. Obey the traffic signs.

Every highway has signs posted that read, “Keep Right Except to Pass,” or “Slower Traffic Keep Right.” Those signs are there because highway traffic safety specialists know that is what we need to do to keep our roads safe.

Learn how to merge. The word “merge” does not mean stop completely and wait for a break in the oncoming traffic. Merge means to speed up or slow down to ease into the oncoming traffic. It also requires that the drivers in the oncoming traffic need to get out of the way and let them merge safely.

Most traffic accidents and near-accidents could be avoided if people were just polite while driving. Most road rage on the interstates is caused by tension resulting from traffic congestion, aggressive drivers, tailgating, erratic or unsafe lane changes, blaring the car horn and making obscene gestures to other drivers.

Years ago, while driving down Locust Street, the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that simply stated, “Honk if you Love Jesus.” Well, I love Jesus, so, I honked.

Immediately, the driver whipped his arm out of his window and flipped me off. All I could do was laugh.

When teaching my sons to drive, I always reminded them to keep their eyes on the road. Be prepared for the unexpected.

I would tell them, “Be careful. Someone, in one of those cars out there, is going to do something that might kill you. Don’t let them do it. Be prepared.”

I always finished their driving lesson with, “Don’t ever be rude while driving.”

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist